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Health & Fit: 5 Great Foods to Munch on for Energy That Lasts

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Technically all food is designed to give us energy—after all, calories are units of energy. However, it can be somewhat deceiving: Even if a food is full of calories doesn't necessarily mean that it gives us a healthy, sustained boost of energy. Some foods can make us feel sluggish, while others can add some extra pep in our step. It's important to note, too, that there are many factors beyond food that impact our energy levels—sleep, exercise, even how often we eat.

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"The foods that provide the best sources of energy are those with long-lasting carbohydrates and protein for steady blood sugar levels and nutrients that play an important role in energy production," says Mario Spano, M.S., R.D., sports dietician and consulting sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves.

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So even though that morning coffee jolt may feel like the rev to your engine, it's really healthy foods, high in certain nutrients, that help give you that healthy and sustained lift you need. Here are some great foods to eat regularly for energy that lasts.

Lentils

Lentils have many health benefits, and giving you an energy boost is one of them. They are both high in fiber and carbohydrates that will keep you full and give you longer-lasting energy. Many beans will help accomplish the same thing—but just be careful with consumption as too many beans can contribute to bloating.

Superfood Lentil Salad Recipe Superfood Lentil Salad Recipe © Provided by Real Simple Superfood Lentil Salad Recipe

Cruciferous Vegetables (and Other High Prebiotic Foods)

Cruciferous veggies like arugula, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and Swiss chard have a slew of health benefits, and one of them is providing good energy. One recent study links these vegetables to lower risk of cardiovascular health and increased muscle strength. They're also high in prebiotics, says Steven Grundy, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon, medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine, and author of The Energy Paradox. "These foods promote the production of postbiotics, which literally turbocharge energy production by our mitochondria," says Dr. Grundy.

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Other foods high in prebiotic fiber that have a similar impact, according to Dr. Grundy, include ground flaxseeds, radicchio, Belgian endive, asparagus, mushrooms, and pistachios. Studies suggest that the gut microbiota (micro-organisms in your digestive tract) affect energy balance by influencing the efficiency of energy harvest from the diet and how this energy is utilized and stored.

"Our energy production is dependent on a healthy and diverse microbiome," says Dr. Grundy. "The more we can get these sorts of foods into our regimen, the better the sustained energy."

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Crispy Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta and Lemon Recipe a bowl filled with meat and vegetables on a plate: Citrus Recipes: Crispy Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta and Lemon © Provided by Real Simple Citrus Recipes: Crispy Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta and Lemon

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt also packs a lot of punch, especially in the protein department. "It also contains a good amount of carbohydrates and B vitamins," Spano says. B vitamins help us convert the food we eat into usable energy. Having a snack high in protein and energy can often help you fight off that mid-day slump.

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Lemon Curd and Berry Parfait Recipe Lemon Curd and Berry Parfait Recipe © Provided by Real Simple Lemon Curd and Berry Parfait Recipe

Steel-Cut Oats

If you want to stay full and have long-lasting energy, steel-cut oats are a great pick, since they're packed with iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. "Pair oatmeal with milk or yogurt to ramp up the protein in your meal or snack," Spano says.

Maple, Pear, Pecan Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats Recipe Maple, Pear, and Pecan Steel-Cut Oats © Provided by Real Simple Maple, Pear, and Pecan Steel-Cut Oats

Beets

You may be wondering, why beets?, as they're mostly carbohydrates. "They have a unique advantage over many foods: [Beets] are among the highest nitrate foods," says Spano. "Nitrates help expand our blood vessels for greater blood flow, and therefore, greater oxygen and nutrients to our tissues."

Steak and Beet Salad Recipe Steak and Beet Salad © Provided by Real Simple Steak and Beet Salad

What to Avoid

This will come as no surprise, but you'll want to also make sure you avoid foods that zap your energy, including those high in processed sugar and low in nutrients. "Juices, sodas, processed foods, and even fruit smoothies all cause a literal traffic jam in the energy-producing organelles of our cells, the mitochondria," says Dr. Grundy. When in doubt, reach for whole foods (the less processed the better) without added fats and sugar.

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